They might not know it, but two Westminster canines — Bananas and Maggie — are saving other dogs' lives. Bananas and Maggie are two of the about 50 dogs that are taken to the blood drive at Airpark Animal Hospital to donate their blood every six weeks.
Representatives from the Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank out of Virginia perform the procedures.at the animal hospital at 1000 Littlestown Pike in Westminster — the only Blue Ridge donation site in Carroll County.
Blue Ridge serves about 500 dog donors and 28 donation sites in the tristate area and comes to Westminster every six weeks.
The next blood drive at Airpark Animal Hospital is Sept. 9 and is open to all healthy dogs — not just patients of Airpark — that are at least 40 pounds, a healthy weight for their breed and be between the ages of 1 and 7.
The blood bank is not for walk-ins because all dogs must be prescreened over the phone to make sure they meet the criteria and also must have an appointment scheduled.
Donors cannot be on most medications and must be up to date with their rabies and distemper/parvo vaccinations as well as heartworm and flea and tick prevention treatment.
Owners are asked to take their dogs to donate every six weeks at a minimum of five to seven times per year because of the financial investment and time commitment Blue Ridge puts into each dog, said Jocelyn Pratt, director of Blue Ridge Blood Bank.
The only payment from Blue Ridge is the promise to owners that should their dogs need blood, they would have priority to receive it, Pratt said.
The blood collected from donors is used to help dogs in trauma or accident situations where there is major blood loss or in cases of illness or autoimmune disease, Pratt said.
"A lot of the owners [who] bring their dogs to donate blood are blood donors themselves, so they understand the importance of blood transfusions, or they've had a dog that has needed blood," said Sue Smith, a veterinary technician at Airpark Animal Hospital.
Robin Armstrong, Bananas' owner and Maggie's caregiver, said the reason she takes both dogs to donate blood is simple:
"Because it saves dogs' lives. It's exactly the same as human blood donation. Without a blood supply, injured and ill dogs will die," Armstrong said.
Bananas, a 3-year-old mixed breed, has been a blood donor for the past two years. Maggie, a 2-year-old mixed breed, has been donating for almost a year.
"There are some folks when they hear about it think that it's going to hurt the dogs but it doesn't," Armstrong said. "Dogs … are really good at letting you know if they don't want to do something and if they hurt."
Most importantly, Pratt said, Blue Ridge wants to provide a humane way to gather dogs' blood and only accepts dogs that are willing to donate.
The blood is drawn from the side of the neck because that location provides the most efficient and comfortable way for them to give blood, Pratt said.
Before dogs can donate, they must go to a preliminary visit either at Blue Ridge or one of its donation sites to make sure they are healthy and have a good temperment.
The first visit, which is about 30 minutes, is spent getting the dog comfortable with the room and laying the dog on the table where a vet would draw blood for an actual donation, Robinson said. At that first visit, a vet might take a sample of the dog's blood to test it — but only if the dog seems relaxed enough. The blood test, which is to see if the dog is healthy, is free to the owner and done every year that a dog donates blood.
If a dog is deemed comfortable enough to be a donor, a donation is drawn on the second visit. These visits are filled with treats and affection, Armstrong said. There are two vets or vet technicians that help with the blood donation — one who draws the blood and the other who snuggles with the dog.
"[The people at Blue Ridge] really invest a lot of time … it took Maggie an extra time or two to really get comfortable. She was really down with the treat part, but not so down with getting on the table part in the beginning," Armstrong said.
The actual appointment takes about 10 to 15 minutes, but the process of actually drawing blood takes three to five minutes, Pratt said.
Some of the dogs like to eat while the vet is drawing blood and others do not, she said.
"Most of the time they don't notice when the needle goes in; most of the time they don't notice when the needle goes out," Armstrong said.
Because Bananas and Maggie are each about 45 pounds, they donate half a pint of blood each time, the smallest amount a vet would take. Depending on a dog's size, the most blood a dog could donate is 1 pint.
As long as two dogs are of the same blood type, the donor and recipient's breed does not matter, Pratt said.
"Dogs are like people. They have their own blood type," Pratt said.
Although there is not a specific breed of dog that must be used to donate blood, there are breeds that are especially calm, making them ideal donors, Pratt said.
Greyhounds are usually relaxed and often universal blood donors, meaning that they can usually donate blood to any dog regardless of blood type, Pratt said.
Pitbulls are also generally very calm and make for good donors.
"Regardless of breed, it has to be a dog that is willing to take love and treats from us and listen to us," Pratt said.
Smith said it is incredible to know that there is a blood supply to help other dogs and her own dogs, as well.
"I think nowadays people do anything for their pets. And we celebrate the human-animal bond," Smith said.
Because Airpark Animal Hospital does not keep a supply of dog blood, the donations are sent to the Carroll Central Animal Emergency, a hospital in Westminster, where it is kept at the ready, Smith said.
Because blood has a shelf life of about a month and a half before the red blood cells are no longer viable, Smith said that Airpark would not use the blood fast enough before it expired.
Although there are blood banks available for cats, Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank does not take blood from cats because they have to be sedated, are less willing to donate and face more restrictions because they carry different diseases than dogs, Pratt said.
Blue Ridge Veterinary Associates, which is where the blood bank is stationed, will draw blood from cats that belong to the staff members with permission if a need arises.
For larger animals like horses, Pratt said, equine hospitals would probably use a donor of a family friend or a staff animal in order to get blood.
Animals like rodents are so small that it is hard to get enough blood from a donor in order to help the recipient, Pratt said, so there really is no blood bank for animals of that size.
"For people who want to give back and want to contribute — who want to act on their love for animals if they have a healthy, middle-aged dog — it's a great thing to do," Armstrong said.